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Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2010

A Hack Education Project

Online Learning

This post appeared on Hack Education on December 4, 2010

Online Learning: The Statistics

2010 saw the demand for online learning opportunities continue to grow. According to the 2010 Sloan Survey of Online Learning, three-quarters of the colleges and universities responding said that they'd seen an increased demand for online courses during the last academic year. This demand has caused enrollment in online classes to rise by almost 1 million students, the largest ever year-to-year increase. Nearly 30% of university students now take at least one course online -- over 5.6 million students. And the growth rate for online enrollment (21%) far exceeds the less than 2% growth rate for the overall higher ed student population. the number of college students taking at least one class online increased by 1 million.

But the same survey found that respondents from almost one-third of institutions believe that online learning is inferior to face-to-face instruction. Research published in the Journal of Online Learning and Teaching this summer analyzed 20 years of research into online and face-to-face learning and found that in 70% of the cases, students taking distance education courses outperformed their counterparts in the traditionally instructed courses. The research notes "the improvements of technology, the widespread Internet access, the increased legitimacy of online learning within established universities and employers, and the increased participation of adult learners in higher education with clear preferences toward learning anytime and anywhere" and argues that online learning will likely continue to outperform -- and even increasingly outperform -- more traditional face-to-face instruction.

Important Online Learning Trends in 2010

1. Open Content

2. Social Learning

3. Lifelong Learning

At the Techonomy conference in August, Bill Gates quipped that "Five years from now on the web for free you'll be able to find the best lectures in the world." Despite Gate's prediction that this will occur five years hence (and with the caveat that education should be a lot more than just watching online videos), the number open educational resources continued to expand in 2010 -- at both the university and K-12 level. But in addition to the increasing availability of online course materials (openly-licensed and otherwise), companies like Nixty and Open Study have sought to also provide a social framework for OCW students to collaborate and communicate as they learn. And many of these students are "lifelong learners" -- 43% of those accessing MIT OpenCourseWare are not affiliated with any university program, according to spokesperson Steve Carson.

Competition for the Cloud

In April, the State of Oregon announced that it's schools were "going Google," becoming the first state education department to take advantage of Google's Apps for Education offerings. The free program offers communication and collaboration tools, estimated to save Oregon over $1.5 million a year just for the email service alone.

As the year went on, more states and more schools "went Google" while others opted for Microsoft's [email protected] equivalent, as the two companies seemed to divy up the districts and institutions moving to the cloud. In October, Google announced that over 10 million students worldwide now use Google Apps for Education.

The State of Virtual Worlds

While 2010 may have been a good year for schools to move to the cloud, the news wasn't so good for schools and virtual worlds, particularly for those who've invested heavily in Second LIfe. In August, Linden Labs CEO Philip Linden announced that Second Life would be closing the Teen Grid, a place where many schools had built virtual world programs with teen users. And in October, Linden Labs announced Second Life would be ending discounts for educational organizations on their land purchase.

These decisions, while difficult for fans of Second Life, have been a boon for those organizations that offer alternatives to OpenSim, such as Reaction Grid. And interest in virtual worlds, particularly among young Internet users shows no sign of dissipating. In October, the British analytics company KZero found that the number of users in virtual worlds surpassed the 1 billion mark, with over half of those users under the age of 15.